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SEPTEMBER 20, 2009: TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
James 3:16-4:3
Mark 9:30-37

Thankfully those who determined our weekend Scripture readings have followed last week’s Marcan passage narrating Jesus’ first prediction of his passion, death and resurrection with his second prediction. (We won’t hear the third for four weeks.) Just as Peter’s comments after the first demonstrated he had no idea what it means to die with Jesus, so the disciples’ argument on the road about “who was the greatest” shows they also didn’t listen carefully to what said about dying.

Jesus corrected Peter last week; he corrects all his followers this week. “Those who wish to be first shall be last of all and servants of all.” Then he employs a graphic sign. “Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them. ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.’”

Forty years ago, Pope Paul VI gathered a panel of scientists, sociologists, Scripture scholars, theologians and anthropologists to study and discuss the question of original sin. Among other things, the experts concluded that original sin wasn’t so much something our ancestors did as something they didn’t do. They didn’t change the sinful environment into which they evolved. Because they were so few in number, they had more of an opportunity to change the way people related to one another than we do.

The more I listen to the Christian Scriptures the more I’m convinced the historical Jesus was committed to changing the environment in which we live our lives; not so much the physical, but the interpersonal environment, the same thing the pope’s panel zeroed in on.

In this second explanation of what it means to die with Jesus, Mark tells his church that the most insignificant person in their community is to be looked upon as the risen Jesus in their midst. Don’t confuse this passage with the one in which Jesus says we must become like little children. Here Jesus demands we openly accept little children as a sign of his and the Father’s presence among us.

Can you imagine what sort of a welcoming climate we’d create if the most insignificant were looked upon as being the most significant? The first really would be the last and servant of all. The conflicts James mentions would no longer exist. Jealousy and selfish ambition would vanish.

Perhaps one of the reasons we haven’t been able to create such an unthreatening atmosphere on any large scale in Christianity can be found in our Wisdom pericope. “The wicked say, ‘Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings...“ In biblical terms, the “just one” is the person who creates proper relationships with God and others.

We don’t bring about a just environment in a vacuum. We already find ourselves in the middle of another, original sin-formed environment. People don’t take kindly to those who envision a different way of living one’s life. We need only remember what happened to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Jesus. Original sin might be removed at baptism. But the milieu which brought that sin into existence still lives on. We constantly struggle to transform our “faith neighborhood,” doing our best to fulfill Jesus’ dream.

Maybe the most evident starting point for some is to begin fleshing out Jesus’ new world vision would simply be to close all the cry rooms in all our churches.